Public ed coalition plans lawsuit to try to kill EdChoice vouchers

By: - August 3, 2021 12:40 am

Stock image from Pixabay.

The education coalition behind the case that successfully argued Ohio’s public school system was unconstitutional says they’ll head back to the courts to eliminate the EdChoice private school voucher system.

Bill Phillis, executive director for the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, said the approval of the fair school funding plan, even in it’s two-year abbreviated form, “provides at least a hint of the promise that we are moving in the right direction.”

But the continuance and expansion of the EdChoice vouchers leaves education in the state as an unconstitutional, inaccessible system, causing the need for a new lawsuit, he said.

“I want Ohioans to know and internalize that the state legislature is responsible for a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state,” Phillis said in a press call on Monday.

The phrase “thorough and efficient” is a reference to the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in DeRolph v. State of Ohio, which ruled multiple times that the state’s funding model for public schools relied too heavily on property wealth, and didn’t allow equal access to education.

The courts should be interested in the new case because of the potential “de facto” racial segregation issues that could come up because of the increased funding to the private school voucher program, according to Stephen Dyer, director of government relations, communications and marketing for the Ohio Education Association.

“The folks taking the vouchers tend to be less reflective of the demographic composition of the district that their leaving,” Dyer said on Monday. “Obviously, state-sanctioned racial segregation is not something that the U.S. Supreme Court is fond of.”

Dyer used Lima City Schools as an example, citing 2016-2017 data collected by the Ohio Education Association and thinktank Innovation Ohio. In the district, Lima Central Catholic received more than $686,000 in EdChoice transfers. Demographics taken from state report cards show the school as 71% white students and 29% non-white, based on data from the Ohio Department of Education.

Similarly, St. Charles Catholic School in Lima had more than $653,000 in EdChoice transfers, with 82% white students and 18% non-white students registered in state data.

The coalition and its supporters take issue with arguments by legislative leadership, specifically state Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), who said the Fair School Funding Plan passed as part of the budget could only be funded for two years.

He said funding the full six-year phase-in drawn up by the authors of the plan (including now-House Speaker Bob Cupp) takes away the ability of future general assemblies to make spending decisions.

“No matter what we do about predictability, all spending decisions under our constitution are two-year decisions,” Huffman said in June as the budget plan rolled out.

Dyer said the new revenue projections showing $3 billion in surplus money in state coffers over the next two years lead him to believe the state could make the investment work if its leaders wanted it to.

“It’s awfully curious to me that legislatures have absolutely zero problem with hamstringing future legislatures with tax cuts that remove revenue from future legislatures’ pots,” Dyer said. “And at the same time they express overwhelming concern about investing in students and kids.”

Phillis said the coalition is still working with attorneys to put together a court challenge to EdChoice similar to their challenge in DeRolph, and where that lawsuit will be filed.

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Susan Tebben
Susan Tebben

Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio.

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